A growing shortage of senior program managers is impeding successful program management. Many of them are retiring or moving to private industry for more lucrative salaries as they approach the end of their careers. Some agencies are taking steps to replenish talent. At NASA, that also means emphasizing a more consistent approach that eases the training and execution.
“We are in the process of training a significant crop of my project managers in project management disciplines, which will give us a common vocabulary and a common approach to doing project management,” said Linda Cureton, chief information officer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“That means if you are a project manager and you are reporting on a proposed project, then you are going to give us financial information, risk information, scope information in ways that are consistent with a specific project management framework so we can do better apples-to-apples comparisons across portfolios and projects.”
To fill the talent gap, some agencies are relying more heavily on systems integrators and other contractors to take on program management responsibilities. However, conflicts may result when contractors that were directly involved in defining the requirements for a large program subsequently bid on the work and oversee performance.
“Third-party program managers have a different master and different agendas, and I do prefer to go in-house because I have a little more input in what they are doing and how they are doing things,” said Ryan Christensen, manager of Nebraska’s project management office. “I also think we should do everything we can inside the state to increase and improve the knowledge and understanding of what project management is. When you start relying on contractors, I think that puts us in a less strategic position to properly manage our projects in the future.”
When that’s not possible, agencies may still benefit from using outside program management help. John Madej, civil division president at Robbins-Gioia, advised agencies to establish a separate program management office to oversee the performance of these contractors to ensure an agency’s needs are being met.
With the right controls in place, a mix of in-house and outside program managers can produce successful results.
Contractors “can help you ramp up when you need special skills,” said Martha Dorris, the General Services Administration’s administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Communications. “And when people don’t perform, you can trade them out and get somebody else new in. In a really good project team, people work together as one big team so you forget who is government and who is industry.”
Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.